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posted by LaminatorX on Sunday March 23 2014, @11:32PM   Printer-friendly
from the Where's-my-20-hour-work-week? dept.

Papas Fritas writes:

"Jeremy Rifkin writes in the NYT that the inherent dynamism of competitive markets is bringing down costs so far that many goods and services are becoming nearly free, abundant, and no longer subject to market forces and while economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring those costs to near zero. The first inkling of this paradox at the heart of capitalism came in 1999 when Napster enabled millions of people to share music without paying the producers and artists, wreaking havoc on the music industry. Similar phenomena went on to severely disrupt the newspaper and book publishing industries. The huge reduction in marginal cost is now beginning to reshape energy, manufacturing and education. "Although the fixed costs of solar and wind technology are somewhat pricey, the cost of capturing each unit of [renewable] energy beyond that is low (PDF)," says Rifkin. As for manufacturing "thousands of hobbyists are already making their own products using 3-D printers, open-source software and recycled plastic as feedstock, at near zero marginal cost" and more than six million students are enrolled in "free massive open online courses, the content of which is distributed at near zero marginal cost."

But nowhere is the zero marginal cost phenomenon having more impact than the labor market, where workerless factories and offices, virtual retailing and automated logistics and transport networks are becoming more prevalent. What this means according to Rifkin is that new employment opportunities will lie in the collaborative commons in fields that tend to be nonprofit and strengthen social infrastructure like health care, aiding the poor, environmental restoration, child care, care for the elderly, and the promotion of the arts and recreation. "As for the capitalist system, it is likely to remain with us far into the future, albeit in a more streamlined role, primarily as an aggregator of network services and solutions, allowing it to thrive as a powerful niche player in the coming era. We are, however, entering a world partly beyond markets, where we are learning how to live together in an increasingly interdependent, collaborative, global commons.""

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Tork on Monday March 24 2014, @01:06AM

    by Tork (3914) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 24 2014, @01:06AM (#20020)

    It makes you wonder if, for some commodities, the eventual cost of even physical things will be zero. .. I'd love to hear reasons why this might not be the case.

    The big reason would be supply and demand. You mention a factory creating iPods faster than they are purchased. That factory would only create a certain amount of them, then shut down or reconfigure for another product. The price of that iPod would (and does today) have no relation to the cost of producing it. If enough of them get out there, there would be fewer people who would want to buy it at that price. Would it ever hit zero? I doubt it, seems like at a certain point they'd throw their hands up in the air and move on.

    But that's me being a little nitpicky. One of the things you are right about is that automation would likely have a large impact on prices in the sense that lots of jobs will no longer need to be filled by humans. Taken to an extreme, it could end up being very difficult for the masses to do work that would earn them a wage. What happens then? Will we land in Roddenberry's eutopia, or will we have to move away from a Capitalist society? That I couldn't even begin to speculate on. But what I can say is that when people have less spending money, prices will have to come down. Supply and demand aren't negotiable.

    But will they reach zero? When I first started replying to your post I was going to say "Nope, people want money". But... then I realized you said "some commodities" and I re-thought it and... well yeah I do agree with you. Look at what's happening in digitial-land. We've got free videos, free games, free services... that's happening. We could get into a little debate about what 'free' is since a fair chunk of what I'm talking about is advertising supported, but otherwise I think if we suddenly had something like replicators, there would be no new iPods for sale. Who'd pay for it when they can 'print' it at a minimal cost?

    So, yeah my post is probably a little muddy since I changed my opinion in mid-writing. But there is one thing I'm curious about: What happens when we do reach this point? Does everybody find work doing more creative-type stuff that machines cannot do, or do we move to a more socialist society where things like housing and food are provided?

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Kell on Monday March 24 2014, @02:12AM

    by Kell (292) on Monday March 24 2014, @02:12AM (#20047)

    Never mind the mud! It was an interesting and thoughtful reply. Thank you! :)

    Scientists ask questions. Engineers solve problems.
  • (Score: 3, Informative) by Joe Desertrat on Monday March 24 2014, @02:13AM

    by Joe Desertrat (2454) on Monday March 24 2014, @02:13AM (#20048)

    What happens when we do reach this point? Does everybody find work doing more creative-type stuff that machines cannot do, or do we move to a more socialist society where things like housing and food are provided?

    If you search for "marshallbrain manna" (I'm too lazy to dig up the exact link) and read the story you'll see two possible extremes of what could occur. To summarize, the basis of both is that most jobs for humans have been eliminated and that robots are the producers. In the first scenario, the robots work solely for the benefit of the few that control capital, who in turn support a very basic welfare lifestyle for those who have no capital, letting them live in what are essentially prisons. In the second scenario, the robots work for everyone, creating a sort of Star Trek utopia where people are free to use their shares of the production to pursue whatever sort of creative visions they have.
    I fear that the first scenario, or something similar, is a far more probable outcome.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @02:50PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @02:50PM (#20260)

      Here you go: []

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @03:12PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @03:12PM (#20274)

      someone linked to that 'manna' story on /. recently and i read 75% of it. it's quite long. i read the beginning and the ending, skipping about 25% of it in the middle. there were two 'civilizations' that resulted. really, the whole world evolved into a feudalistic type society where most people lived in the welfare 'prisons'. the only exception was a 'free and open-source' colony created in Australia by some guy with a lot of foresight and wealth. honestly, both scenarios scared the hell out of me. it should be obvious why the 'welfare prison' society is scary. the 'google society' scared me because (1) the chances of it ever being created are so small. in the story, it was created by pure poetic license. it was an improbable 'plot device'. (2) such a society would be easily conquered. it wouldn't last very long. (3) when people are free to do whatever they want without obligations or responsibility, they degenerate into the abyss of indulgence and other vices. the atheist side of me looks at history and thinks this is the major reason that ancient leaders 'invented' religion. the god-fearing side of me thinks this is when He will smite us all. both sides of me see the same conclusion but with different interpretative spins.